Born in 1475, Michelangelo Buonarroti grew to become one of the most prominent artists and great minds of the High Renaissance. Considered to be one of the greatest and most influential artists to have ever lived, Michelangelo produced some of the most recognizable works in history, including the statue of David, the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, and more. Although his influence and work are timeless, he was far more than a man with a pen, brush, and chisel. Take a look into who Michelangelo really was, and a deep-dive into his lesser-known personal life.
He Carved David From A Block Of Marble That Was Thrown Away
Although Michelangelo was known to be particular about the marble that he used for his sculptures, that wasn’t the case for the material he used for his celebrated David statue. The block of marble that he ended up using known as “the Giant” had been quarried nearly forty years earlier and was deemed unworkable by other artists.
After years of deterioration and previous attempts by other artists, Michelangelo began working with it in 1501 and finishing in 1504. Although he managed to produce one of his most renowned works from it, studies have shown that the poor quality of stone may result in it degrading faster than other marble statues.
He Integrated His Likeness In Some Of His Famous Works
Michelangelo rarely signed his own work and didn’t leave behind any self-portraits. However, on occasion, he would hide stylized depictions of his likeness in his paintings and sculptures, with the most famous being in his 1951 frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel titled The Last Judgment.
In the painting, Saint Bartholomew is holding a piece of flayed skin whose face appears to be Michelangelo’s. He can also be seen as Saint Nicodemus in his The Deposition and possibly as a member of the crowd in The Crucifixion of St. Peter.
He Was A Talented Poet
While Michelangelo is best known for his skill in painting, sculpture, and architecture, he was also a man of words. Throughout his life, he wrote hundreds of sonnets and madrigals, often jotting down lines as he worked on his other art pieces.
His poetry covered a wide variety of subjects ranging from common experiences to personal matters. Although none of his writings were ever published, they circulated around Rome in the 16th century with some of them being turned into songs.
Two Of His Famous Works Have Been Vandalized
Unbelievably, some of Michelangelo’s most significant works have been vandalized over the years. The first was in 1972 when mentally unstable geologist Laszlo Toth hopped a guard rail in St. Peter’s Basilica and used a hammer on Michelangelo’s Pieta. Toth managed to break off Madonna’s nose and forearm, as well as part of her eyelid and veil.
It took ten months of restoration before it was put on display again, this time behind protective glass. Then, in 1991, David was vandalized by someone with a chisel who took of part of a toe on David’s left foot.
He Designed Military Defenses
In 1527, the citizens of Florence cast out the Medici family from power and installed a republican government. Although Michelangelo worked for the Medici Pope Clement VII, he was in favor of the republican government and was appointed as the director of the city’s fortifications. He took his position seriously and extensively researched other city’s defenses.
His hard work paid off, and when the Pope’s forces arrived to reclaim the city, Florence survived the siege for ten months before falling in August 1530. Although Michelangelo should have been executed as a traitor, he was forgiven by Pope Clement VII, who rehired him as an artist. However, after Clement VII’s death, he fled to Rome in fear of the Medici’s and never returned.
He Worked As An Artist For Nine Popes
Starting in 1505, throughout his life, Michelangelo worked for nine consecutive Catholic popes from Julius II to Pius IV. Over the years, he was commissioned for a variety of work ranging from ornate knobs on the papal bedpost to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
However, he didn’t always get along with his employers and had a rather ugly relationship with Julius II. He also became infuriated with Leo X after years of working on a project only for it to be canceled. Yet, he did have strong relationships with other pontiffs such as Pope Paul III who defended his work on The Last Judgment.
He Was Discovered After Producing A Piece Of Fake Greek Art
Early on in his career, Michelangelo created a statue of cupid in the style of the ancient Greeks. His patron at the time, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, then suggested that he make the statue look as if it had been buried. That way they could sell it in Rome and pass it off as an antique for a higher price.
Michelangelo did as he was told, and the piece was sold to Cardinal Raffaele Riario who assumed it was an archeological discovery. Eventually, he found out that he had been duped and got his money back. However, he was so impressed with Michelangelo’s work that he invited him to a meeting in Rome which eventually led to him carving “Pieta.”
He Worked Until The Week Of His Death
In his later years, Michelangelo oversaw the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Once he became too weak to visit the site regularly, he still worked from his home, sending designs and information to his most trusted foremen.
However, up until the end, his true passion was sculpture and he continued his work in his home studio. Just days before he died at the age of 88, he was still working on Randanini Pieta, a sculpture of Jesus in the Virgin Mary’s arms.
A Rival Broke His Nose In His Youth
When he was a teenager, Michelangelo was sent to live and work in the home of Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of the most prominent art patrons in Europe. Yet, his natural talent and skill soon put him at odds with the other young artists he was surrounded by.
At one point, another young artist named Pietro Torrigiano became annoyed with Michelangelo’s superior skill, and most likely sharp tongue. He punched Michelangelo in the nose, breaking and disfiguring it. Torrigiano would later go on to boast, “and this mark of mine, he will carry with him to the grave.”
He Wasn’t The First Choice To Paint The Sistine Chapel
When Michelangelo was rising in popularity, the big painter at the time was Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, whom Pope Julius II initially commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel. However, there was a bit of a rivalry going on between Michelangelo and Rafael, as Michelangelo was slowly beginning to steal some of Raphael’s patrons from him.
Out of Jealousy, Raphael then convinced Julius II to hire Michelangelo as the painter of the Sistine Chapel, hoping that he would fail, proving that Raphael was the better painter. Unfortunately for him, his plan backfired.
He Had Biographies Published During His Lifetime
For his genius and significant impact on the arts, people became fascinated by Michelangelo’s life. The Italians referred to him as “Il Divino” or “the Divine.” His fame led him to become the first Western artist to have a biography published about him not once, but twice during his lifetime.
One of these biographies, written by Giorgio Vasari, claimed that Michelangelo’s work transcended any artist that had ever lived and was “supreme in not one art alone but in all three.”
He Feuded With Leonardo Da Vinci
Considering that Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were two of the most prominent artists and thinkers of their time, it’s not surprising to learn that the two didn’t necessarily get along.
According to biographer Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo had a deep contempt for Da Vinci, even though he was 23 years younger than Da Vinci. However, the dislike was mutual, as they were both fiercely independent and had opposing views on art and the world as a whole. Who knows what could have been accomplished if they had collaborated together.
A Tragic Accident Led Him To Discover His Passion
When Michelangelo was just six years old, his mother tragically passed away from an illness. So, he was sent to live with a nanny and her husband in the town of Settignano. His nanny’s husband worked as a stonecutter and the town’s marble quarry was owned by Michelangelo’s father.
Surrounded by the material, it didn’t take long for Michelangelo to discover his passion for turning marble into art. Giorgio Vasari quotes him in his biography, stating, ” Along with the milk of my nurse, I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures.”
He Signed One Piece Of Art
One of Michelangelo’s most renowned sculptures is undeniably the Pieta, in which the Virgin Mary can be seen holding the lifeless body of Jesus in her arms. Not only is it remarkable, but it’s also the only work of his that he ever signed.
Supposedly, Michelangelo added his name after he heard someone claim that another artist created the statue. However, according to Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo regretted signing the sculpture and vowed never to be so prideful about his work again.
He Helped Create The Modern Depiction Of God
People who envision God as an older man with a white beard can thank Michelangelo for putting a face to the name. That is because it’s precisely how Michelangelo depicted God when he was working on the Sistine Chapel.
Prior to his rendition, most artists portrayed God as a hand reaching down from the clouds and not much else. So, even though many people might know it, Michelangelo had a great influence on the Christian religion.
He Was Fascinated By The Human Body
One of Michelangelo’s most impressive feats in his artwork is his ability to create hyper-realistic portrayals of the human body. His statue of David is nearly proportionally perfect. However, his fascination with the human body went beyond marble, and he studied anatomy by dissecting cadavers.
His knowledge of the human body is presumed to be evident in the Creation of Adam scene in the Sistine Chapel. Behind God, there is an almost entirely accurate shape of the human brain. Since he wouldn’t have known this without dissecting bodies, which was illegal at the time, he managed to sneak some of his knowledge in.
His Grandnephew Changed His Work
Although there is no physical evidence, Michelangelo’s poetry demonstrates romantic friendships with some of his male friends, such as Tommaso dei Cavalieri. Michelangelo was openly homosexual in his poetry but kept them private. This led to some issues with later generations.
When Michelangelo’s grandnephew, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, went on to publish his poems in 1623, he changed the gender pronouns to prevent ruining his family’s image. It wasn’t until John Addington Symonds translated them into English in 1893 that the original genders were restored.
He Burned A Lot Of His Work
Although Michelangelo may have produced thousands of sketches throughout his life, only a fraction of them are around today, around 600. Considering what an influential and groundbreaking artist he was back then and is still considered today, it’s curious how so many of his sketches went missing.
Well, the reality is that Michelangelo burned most of his sketches on his own accord. While it’s still not proven why he did such a thing, some believe vanity is the reason.
He Wasn’t Big On Hygiene
Despite the fact that Michelangelo was a highly respected and successful man, like many creative geniuses, fashion and personal care weren’t at the top of his list of things to care about. People were known to complain about his lack of hygiene, even during a time when washing was considered to be a luxury.
Supposedly, he was terrible about changing his clothes and would wear them until they were literally falling off of his body. Rumor has it that when he died, they had to peel pieces of clothing off of his body.
He Knew How To Get Back At People
Michelangelo had a reputation for walking away from conversations mid-sentence and was known to have a temper, which made him unlikable to a lot of people. Furthermore, he also had a knack for revenge. When working on The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Paul III came to check on his work. He brought along his Master of Ceremonies, Biagio de Cesena, who was horrified by the amount of nudity featured.
Cesena went so far as to claim that that the painting was a better fit for a brothel rather than be on display in a church. So, to exact his revenge, Michelangelo added him into the painting as a character in Hell with donkey ears and a snake attacking his privates.